To understand what a microgrid is, it’s first essential to understand what an electricity grid is.
An electricity grid is the interconnected system for distributing electricity from its source of production to end-users. It covers the entire chain of power supply from power generation and transmission to distribution to homes, offices and industrial facilities.
For example, currently, all power in Singapore is generated in Woodlands, and then transmitted to the CBD and various other locations. This flow is called ‘centralisation of electricity production and consumption’. It means that if the network is strained for any reason, then all people in that area will be affected. Such a centralised system has obvious limitations and shortcomings.
Governments are increasingly exploring decentralised models, also known as microgrids. Microgrids are smaller, scaled-down electricity grids that can work on their own or in connection with other similar microgrids.
To apply the concept of microgrids to our earlier example: instead of depending on power production from Woodlands, the CBD area can turn to solar windows to power itself. Solar windows are made of ordinary glass which can be turned into electricity-generating glass or windows, hence the term ‘solar window’. There is no shortage of supply of window surfaces on tall skyscrapers in an area like the CBD.
In microgrid models, solar energy production systems also double up as storage systems. This means that whatever excess power produced during the daytime can be used during the night and also transmitted to other nearby buildings. Therefore, instead of one big electricity production network and singular transmission into various areas, an area like Marina Bay is now self-sufficient by generating its own electricity. More areas in Singapore becoming co-dependent on each other for their power needs alleviates the strain and demand on the main grid.
There are currently several hurdles that stand in the way of developing microgrids—a competitive pricing model, strong and robust demand from consumers, smart Internet of Things (IoT) metering systems, and Government willpower to run and operate microgrid models which will likely displace traditional power producers, including state-owned producers.